Our transit through the Panama Canal on sailing yacht Perseverance

15-16 March 2016 – 48’ Celestial
US Michael & Amanda, Panamanian Kevin & Milagre
Advisors: Victor – Security boat, Gilberto – Tug Captain

Day One : Gatun locks

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Perseverance at anchor off Club Nautico in Colon

We walked out of our place at 10:10 and got a taxi straight away. He already had someone in the front who was going to Chorillo area, so with the detour and some traffic it took 20 minutes to get to Albrook.
A Colon bus pulled in right as we arrived at 10:30 but of course we had to wait for it to fill up. The Martian movie was blaring out in Spanish but we had our MP3 players ready as usual. We finally pulled out at 11:05 and were on our way. We were very surprised when the driver headed towards Gamboa rather than Corredor Norte – seems every bus trip is slightly different! At 11:50 we passed through the Colon toll gates and soon were at our usual stop. The taxi driver misheard Russell’s directions and thought we wanted to shop in the free zone so our mystery tour continued. We soon got to the yacht club where Michael was waiting with Amanda and the two other crew. He is a Canadian electrician and she is a pharmacist. They have taken a year out to sail from the Great Lakes around to the North Pacific. Kevin is a young Panamamian who does transits through one of the agents, but this time he used panlinehandlers so he could bring his girlfriend Milagre.
We joined the boat and soon headed for the Flats with the interesting twist of being sent outside the breakwater. Think it was a mistake to call and tell them our intentions instead of just going. We were anchored by 14:30 and settled in to wait, with an immediate delay as the Advisor was moved from 16:00 to 16:45. There were six boats gathered by then so we were speculating on the plan.
Victor (security boat driver) arrived at 17:00 by which time there were only four yachts. He told us we would be rafted with two of them, with us in the centre and the outer yachts handling the big lines. Sounded good to us!

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The road bridge opening behind the big ship

We left a catamaran at the Flats and headed for Gatun. The Aussie was the first boat alongside and made quite a mess of it, not helped by the Advisor stepping in to screw up an operation that was going fine, and then Victor stepping in with conflicting instructions. Meanwhile it was obvious that we dodged a bullet by not agreeing to transit with gobby Aussies! They had laughable amount of fenders out and then asked us why we didn’t have more!
The second boat was not much better with a girl trying to throw a line over a large gap which fell short then more conflicting instructions from the Advisor. Finally we were rafted up and could turn around and head into the lock. Since we had no lines we could just sit back and watch.

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Not sure how this line went out without tangling

The first heaving line came to the Aussies and landed right on one old guy’s head. His Advisor was standing right next to him but it was Victor who tried to shout a warning. Both of the starboard lines fell short but the shore guys quickly got them back across to plenty of ribbing.
We were in the lock by 18:10 and the gates swung shut immediately. Throughout the process the raft was swinging wildly as the crew on one side didn’t know what to do and kept letting lines off while the other side was dutifully pulling in any slack that appeared without watching what was going on. Omar next door was not watching anything and was in fact on his phone most of the time. We remember him from a previous transit doing the same, which is really not good!

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Not very vigilant Canal Advisor

The raft was really pushed around by the inflow of water and the lines were creaking and stretching plenty. Perhaps it was more obvious because we were not busy with lines ourselves. I suggested some tweaking to Victor but then lots of mooring experts were adjusting lines before the move to the last chamber.
Even in the last lock the Aussies hadn’t quite got the hang of things and were busy hauling themselves close to the wall. I suggested they stop but their Captain pointed out that there was extreme turbulence. I just replied that was why you don’t want to be close to the wall!
Michael did a great job at the helm and enjoyed having two big fenders and the most reasonable Advisor of the three. Fun to have a skipper that is excited about the Canal after so many seem so clueless.
By 19:30 we were waiting for the big ship to clear, and we were unrafted by 19:45. Quibian was at work dredging out the entrance to the new locks again so we anchored off the yacht club at 19:55. Amanda produced dinner for Victor but his taxi appeared and he took it with him.
The yacht with Omar on board disappeared towards the mooring buoy so obviously Omar was still on his phone – he actually seemed to be watching TV before we finished with the locks. Victor even commented that he was very bad.
We had a nice dinner with excellent cold beer and talked for a while before bed around 23:00.

Day Two : Pedro Miguel & Miraflores locks

Quite a good sleep and then we went under the hose which was lovely. The Panamanians had showers but I think the deck wash was better. We must remember to ask future Captains to rig it up.
The catamaran had joined us last night so we were six anchored off the yacht club. Of course the Advisors did not appear at 07:00. The first two came at about 08:00, then three more at 08:25, leaving us alone! Gilberto (tug Captain) finally arrived at 09:15 and of course was in a hurry. Michael had been down below creating a mountain of French toast so we had a good breakfast.
We got a lock time of 14:40 which sounded like a good plan. Perseverance makes 6.5 knots easily and a little bit more with the tailwind. Gilberto said we could put a sail up but Amanda didn’t want to break the rules. Seems a few years ago a yacht put sails up but couldn’t control them and ended up cutting in front of a big ship.
It was the usual long hot day across the lake and through the cut. We did go off for a snooze once we were told we had to wait an hour. We had overtaken the catamaran but it caught up to us again and then seemed to get in a lock ahead of us. Interesting that they refused to raft up, which Gilberto said normally means they get a delay.
Mike said he was happy to go sidewall but then we heard we would be next to a tug. We tied up next to a wall at 14:30 and waited for the tug to finish with the big ship. Mooring was a bit interesting as the bollard had a bracket over the top that was stuck. We managed to slip the line while Amanda did a bit of headless chicken.
We moved ahead to the tug where I got the all-important stern line across on the second throw! At least Mike was very cool and calm and drove very well. We started the descent at 14:50 then moved ahead to wait on the wall again.
At 16:20 we were in the first lock on the sidewall, waiting for the big ship to come in behind us. Victor said they were going to make a relay operation which would take a while. They shuffled all the mules around and then finally we started. Sidewall was all very easy, and once again Michael did a great job of positioning the boat so we could get lines set up. What a difference when the Captain doesn’t panic!
At 17:10 we were motoring out of Miraflores and on our way home. We aimed for the Balboa Yacht Club quay where the usual small boat came alongside and took the four linehandlers ashore for $12 around 18:00.